Pubdate: Thu, 04 Jun 2015
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Times, LLC.
Author: Tom Howell Jr.


Bills Tell Justice Not to Meddle

Congress' openness toward marijuana use continues to grow, with the 
House voting Wednesday to prevent the Justice Department from 
meddling in states that allow medicinal use of the drug and signaling 
growing support for even broader protections of legalized pot.

The chamber voted to lay off medical marijuana, 242-186, for the 
second year in a row, and a bid to stop meddling in states that allow 
recreational use fell shy of a majority. Both votes showed support has grown.

The House voted amid debate on the Justice Department's annual 
spending bill, which controls federal law enforcement.

Marijuana legalization advocates said the level of support indicates 
that the time has come for broader consideration of rewriting drug policy.

"Now that the House has gone on record with strong bipartisan votes 
for two years in a row to oppose using federal funds to interfere 
with state medical marijuana laws, it's time for Congress to take up 
comprehensive legislation to actually change federal law," said Tom 
Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, a group that supports 
decriminalization. "That's what a growing majority of Americans 
wants, and these votes show that lawmakers are on board as well."

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but four states and the 
District of Columbia have legalized the drug for recreational 
purposes. Nearly half the states, the District and Guam have 
medicinal pot programs.

The conflicting rules have forced the Justice Department to say it 
will turn a blind eye in states that legalize the drug, even as some 
federal prosecutors crack down on dispensaries or other marijuana 
operations in their districts.

Pot advocates say it's up to Congress to clear the air. They argue 
that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and that it's better to 
regulate the drug than let sales fester on the black market.

Critics say marijuana reduces memory, IQ and ambition - particularly 
among children - so there is no reason to hamstring the Drug 
Enforcement Administration.

"The idea of medical marijuana is a joke," Rep. John Fleming, 
Louisiana Republican, said in late-night debate before the daytime 
votes. "It's an end run around the laws. There are more pot shops in 
California than there are Starbucks or McDonald's."

His comments underscored the divide among Republicans, who voted 
Wednesday against amendments to the Justice Department's funding bill 
in much greater numbers than Democrats, even though GOP members 
sponsored both measures.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the California Republican who pushed the 
medical marijuana provision, said federal authorities should use 
their cash-strapped budgets to target terrorists and criminals 
instead of keeping sick people "from using a weed that may or may not 
alleviate their suffering."

He was able to sway 67 Republicans. Rep. Tom McClintock, a fellow 
California Republican, was able to persuade only 45 Republicans to 
support his bid to recognize states that have legalized marijuana for 
recreational use, en route to a 222-206 defeat.

Marijuana advocates hailed the close vote as a sign that attitudes 
are shifting in their favor.

The medical marijuana amendment has been offered eight times since 
2003 and passed for the first time last year, yet Mr. McClintock's 
measure was unprecedented, said Dan Riffle, director of federal 
policy for the Marijuana Policy Project.

"This is the first time this amendment has been offered, and it 
received an impressive amount of support," he said. "It's not really 
a question of whether this measure will pass; it's a question of when 
it will pass."

Mr. McClintock cast his amendment as a check on federal power instead 
of an ambitious foray into drug policy, an appeal designed to 
resonate with his fellow Republicans' fondness for states' rights.

"We have the opportunity to watch what comes of various state 
policies on this issue and benefit from that experience. That's what 
federalism is all about," he said in a phone interview.

Colorado, Washington state, Alaska and Oregon have allowed adults to 
possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use.

D.C. residents also voted to legalize marijuana, but Congress has 
blocked the city from implementing any laws to regulate it or tax its 
sale, citing its constitutional right to the last word on laws in the 
nation's capital.

Also this week, the House voted to siphon $9 million in salaries and 
expenses from the Drug Enforcement Administration and use it to 
reduce the deficit and to help victims of child, domestic or sexual abuse.

That bill's Democratic sponsor said the agency doesn't need as much 
money now that states are liberalizing their own marijuana laws.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom